Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police) on behalf of the
Minister of Justice: I move,
That the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors)
Amendment Bill be referred to the Law and Order Committee for consideration, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 15 August 2011, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting except during oral questions, and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
In recent years our police and corrections officers have been subjected to an increasing amount of violence. Assaults on police officers increased by nearly a third between 2005 and 2009, and assaults on corrections officers have more than doubled, although serious assaults have dropped. The Government believes that as the first line of public protection against violent individuals and prisoners, police officers and corrections officers are deserving of greater protection in the course of their jobs than the law currently affords them. At present there are several offences that specifically apply when the victim is a police officer or a corrections officer, including assault on an officer and using a firearm against an officer. However, when other types of assaults are involved the accused is charged with generic offences that apply, regardless of whether the victim is a police or corrections officer. The law does not require the court to take the victim’s status as a police or corrections officer into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing. That is left to the discretion of the sentencing judge.
The Government believes that attacks on police and corrections officers, who are upholders of the law and protectors of the public, should be explicitly denounced in legislation. This bill will ensure that the courts take the status of police officers and corrections officers into account as an aggravating factor at sentencing for crimes committed against them while acting in the course of their duties. In addition to the new aggravating factor, the Ministry of Justice, Department of Corrections, and the New Zealand Police will continue to examine the adequacy of existing offences relating to assaults against police and corrections officers. Officials will report on the adequacy of the existing special offences by June 2011.
This bill denounces the conduct of those who flagrantly attack the men and women who are charged with protecting our communities. An attack on a police or corrections officer represents an attack on the community and on the rule of law. Our police and corrections staff keep the community safe from our most dangerous people. This bill sends a strong signal that the Government will do everything in its power to protect them while they are on the job. I commend the bill to the House.
CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour)
: I rise to speak in support of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. Labour will support the referral of this bill through to the select committee. I think the comments of the Minister of Corrections about what this legislation will achieve are somewhat overstated, but I will come back to that point.
Let me start by saying that on the day when we are having the first reading of this bill I saw in today’s
a story with the headline “Bashed policeman says motorists saved his life”. This is the story of highway patrol officer Steve McLardy of Tūrangi, who was bashed unconscious and received multiple punches. He was arresting a man who had given false information after a failed breath test. This was less than 5 months after Waiōuru officer Bruce Mellor was beaten with a machete near Taihape.
Paul Quinn: We read the paper, Carol. We can read over here.
CAROL BEAUMONT: None of us in this House, despite what Mr Paul Quinn was saying, would condone that sort of behaviour. We find it offensive that the people who serve us and look after our interests by trying to uphold law and order in this country, be they police officers or prison officers, should be treated in this way. We are all concerned about these sorts of gratuitous attacks on our police officers, and it is
interesting that on the day when we are debating this bill there was such a story in our newspaper, although that is not uncommon.
The bill would make the fact that an offence was committed against a police officer or a prison officer who is acting in the course of his or her duty a listed mandatory aggravating factor at the time of sentencing. As I have said, we agree that assaults on police and prison officers should be taken very seriously, and we have no problem with supporting this bill. However, we do not think it will make any difference, as the courts can, and already usually do, take into consideration that that is an aggravating factor when sentencing offenders. This is where I think the Minister somewhat overstated what this legislation is likely to achieve. I want to note that our public servants and our State servants—people like police and prison officers, but others as well—do a very difficult job, often in very trying circumstances: often with people who are angry, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or feeling disenfranchised, or who for whatever reason are just plain bad or feeling just plain angry. Police and prison officers, and not just people in those jobs but also nurses, doctors in our emergency departments, teachers in our schools, Work and Income staff, and Housing New Zealand Corporation staff—our State and public servants—have to deal with these sorts of problems on a fairly common basis.
I wonder what is happening to those workers, police and prison officers but the rest of them as well, the other State servants and public servants, who are under enormous pressure from Government cuts, and who are under pressure because the public they are dealing with are stressed, are unemployed, and are struggling to make ends meet. Those things make doing the job a whole lot more difficult that it was previously. I just think that when we talk about legislation like this, we should talk about that context: the real fact that these people are being put under pressure by Government policy, and in fact in many cases are having the support that they are given and the number of staff in their organisations cut. Of course, we will all wait to see what happens in the Budget in that regard.
Going back to the specifics of this bill, as I said, we have no objection to the bill, but we think the Government is just tinkering around the edges instead of providing evidence-based plans to reduce crime. The Sentencing Act already provides that a court may take into account any aggravating or mitigating factor that it thinks fit in addition to the specific factors listed in section 9 of that Act. The Act lists a whole number of things that are aggravating factors, including the fact that the offence involved actual or threatened violence or the actual or threatened use of a weapon, and a whole lot of other factors. It then puts in place a number of mitigating factors, which include things like the age of the offender, whether and when the offender pleaded guilty, and the likes of that. So there is already quite a comprehensive list of aggravating and mitigating factors set out in sections 9(1) and (2), but the Act also says those things are not the end of the line. Nothing in those sections prevents a court from taking into account any other aggravating or mitigating factor that it thinks fit. Nothing in the sections that I have just referred to implies that a factor referred to there must be given greater weight than any other factor. So there is already provision for this type of assault to be treated as an aggravating factor at sentencing.
This amendment bill does not require a court to take any specific action in terms of the type or severity of sentence it imposes. It means the court will be required simply to take this factor into account, along with the other specified and unspecified aggravating factors, in arriving at the appropriate sentence to be imposed in a particular case. The regulatory impact statement says the court would already usually take this factor into account—that courts have traditionally regarded assaults on law enforcement officers as serious. In fact, there is a quote from the High Court describing an attack on a police
officer as “equivalent to an attack on the community, because our police are the representatives of the community in the matter of law and order in our society. They are society’s front line.” That was from a 1985 court case.
So we say we will support this bill, but we do not think it will make a great deal of difference. In fact, this is another piece of meaningless law and order legislation from a Government that does not seem to have any ideas for reducing crime, other than supporting “three strikes” - type legislation from the ACT Party. We are sick of seeing ad hoc and piecemeal law and order legislation from the Government in reactions to particular topical issues, without the Government trying to make a coherent whole, and without it trying to really address the real spectrum of issues that are so important—the causes of crime, victims’ rights, appropriate levels of punishment, and appropriate rehabilitation. What sorts of things are actually leading to the increase in violent crime in our society? They are issues around poverty, issues around parenting, and issues around alcohol and drugs. And what about unemployment, and what about the fact that so many people are struggling to make ends meet? None of those things, which are actually really important factors in driving crime, seem to get anywhere near the Government’s radar. Instead, the Government seems to be willing to just have another very brief headline-grabbing piece of law and order legislation to say it is being tough on criminals and responding to law and order issues, even though in fact the legislation is all fluff.
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki)
: I rise to speak to the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, which is a small yet elegant bill that proves without a doubt something that the Opposition members—in particular, Carol Beaumont—do not seem to understand, which is that this Government backs the police. The National Government backs the police and the prison service, and, furthermore, is prepared to do something about it. For that very reason I am quite pleased that the likes of Carol Beaumont do not sit on the Law and Order Committee, which is charged with the scrutiny of this bill. Following that rather woeful speech, which showed for all time that Carol Beaumont neither reads the legislation nor understands it when she does read it, I hope this bill will have decent scrutiny.
I turn to the regulatory impact statement, which spells out in plain English, for those of us who can understand it, that the Sentencing Act currently provides that the court may take into account any aggravating or mitigating factor it thinks fit in addition to the specific factors listed in section 9 of the Act. But this amendment to the Sentencing Act, which shows without a doubt that this Government backs the police and the corrections service, will provide an element of certainty by requiring the court to take into account the fact that an offence is committed against a prison officer or a police office.
If Carol Beaumont stuck her head above the union parapets and went into the provinces, she might notice that over the past 5 or so years a number of our police officers and prison officers have been under sustained attack by members of criminal elements in our society. What about that prison constable in Ōāmaru who was attacked in February last year while going about his duty on Thames Street? He was set upon by a couple of absolute cowards who beat him into the gutter. That police constable was working alone. Those people had beaten him into the gutter. They had done their work and proceeded to try to leave. Do members know what he then did? He got up out of the gutter and went and gave them a seeing to. That is the kind of policeman that our Government will back.
What about the policeman in Wānaka who was going about his duty as a sole-charge policeman? I tell Carol Beaumont that in the provinces our police have to go about their duties in a sole-charge position. That is the way it is in the country. That policeman went to check out a woman driver. She took off in her car and he was dragged down the
street. That police officer, the police officer in Ōāmaru, the police officer in Alexandra, and the police officer in Ranfurly know that this Government has their backs. The Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill shows our police and the Department of Corrections that without a doubt this Government backs them. I commend this bill to the House.
RAYMOND HUO (Labour)
: From time to time we learn from the media that yet another police officer or prison officer has been attacked. There has been a significant increase in the number of recorded assaults on police over the past 5 years. Total assaults increased by 33 percent over the 2004 to 2009 period, while serious assaults leading to charges under the Crimes Act increased by 38 percent. Taking into account the increase in the number of sworn police staff over that period, the rate of total assaults increased by 14 percent, and serious assaults by nearly 19 percent, during the period.
The increase in the number and rate of assaults on prison staff over the same period has been sharper than the increase for police officers. Total assaults and serious assaults have both doubled during this period. There was also a sharper increase in the rate of assaults on prison staff compared with police officers, although this rate is still much lower for prison officers than for sworn police officers.
It is therefore understandable that the objective of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill is to ensure that the court takes into account the fact that an offence is committed against a police officer or prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty as an aggravating factor at sentencing. Labour supports this bill to go to the select committee.
The current law, especially the Crimes Act 1961 and the Summary Offences Act, includes a small number of offences that specifically apply when the victim is a police officer—for example, using a firearm against a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault, and assault on a police officer. The court must impose a minimum term of 17 years for the murder of a police officer or prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty, unless it would be manifestly unjust. There are not currently any other special offences for assaults on prison officers.
Section 9 of the Sentencing Act sets out a number of aggravating and mitigating factors that must be taken into account when the court is imposing a sentence. These include factors such as the use of actual or threatened violence, whether the offence involved unlawful entry into a dwelling place, and whether the offence occurred while the offender was on bail or subject to a sentence. The list of aggravating factors also includes factors that reflect community values, such as whether the offender abused a position of trust or committed the offence due to hostility towards a particular group on the basis of race or religion.
The regulatory impact statement by the Ministry of Justice notes that the courts have traditionally regarded assaults on law enforcement officers as serious. The High Court has described an attack on a police officer as equivalent to an attack on the community, because our police are the representatives of the community in the matter of law and order in society. They are society’s front line. The Court of Appeal has emphasised the gravity of using serious violence against police officers, and upheld deterrent sentences in a number of cases.
In a press release dated 13 October 2010 the Minister responsible for this bill, the Hon Simon Power, said: “Though the new aggravating factor does not automatically require an increase in an offender’s sentence, I’m confident that explicit legislation denouncing this type of offending will help ensure courts impose tough penalties.” What the Minister meant to say was that the proposed amendment would not require the court to take any specific action in terms of the type or severity of the sentence imposed.
The court will, I gather, simply be required to take this factor into account, along with other specified or unspecified aggravating factors, in arriving at the appropriate sentence to be imposed in a particular case.
In most circumstances the process, the consideration, and the conclusion that the court comes to will not be the slightest bit affected by this proposed amendment, because the fact that an offence has been committed against a police officer or prison officer is something that the court would usually take into consideration already. On that note, I look forward to learning more about how the bill would actually help ensure that courts impose tough or tougher penalties.
I note that the Minister of Police and Minister of Corrections, the Hon Judith Collins, said that the Government, through this bill, wants to send a strong and clear message that offending against law enforcement officers is unacceptable. Again, I look forward to seeing how that message will assist the bill being developed to achieve its objective.
Having said that, here is a message for the Minister: although our police must be congratulated on their successful, intensified crime-fighting, the crime rate drop may be short-lived and could be quickly reversed if police are targeted by Government cuts to the public sector. Who said that? The Police Association. Its president, Greg O’Connor, said that the gains were down to extra investment, which has seen 1,000 extra police officers added since 2006. So a big thankyou to Labour. The members opposite simply cannot deny the fact. As the president said, the gains were extremely fragile and could be reversed if a razor was taken to the police budget.
The message to the National-ACT Government from the police and from the general public is strong and clear: do not undo the good work. Thank you.
KEITH LOCKE (Green)
: The Green Party will be supporting the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill being referred to the Law and Order Committee. It will be interested to see the submissions at the select committee level, because it is a somewhat puzzling bill. As other speakers have said, it is a very short bill. It adds an aggravating factor to a number of aggravating factors that judges have to take into account in sentencing. But, as has been pointed out, they already do so. It is clear that police officers and prison officers put themselves in harm’s way for our good, and I think judges always take that fact into consideration. They try as best they can to protect police officers and discourage people from committing offences, particularly assaults, against them.
There are already some provisions in the Crimes Act and Summary Offences Act in relation to assaults on police officers. The provisions under the Summary Offences Act carry a maximum penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment. Under the Crimes Act the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment for using a firearm against any police, traffic, or prison officer, and there is a maximum of 3 years’ imprisonment for aggravated assault on a constable in the execution of his or her duty. So some provisions are there already. If the Government thinks it needs to add to the aggravating factors in the Sentencing Act that judges take account of during sentencing that the victim is a constable or a prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty, it probably would have been a better course to put it into a bigger bill, instead of going through all the hassle of this small bill.
As even the regulatory impact statement indicates, this is a fairly meaningless extra provision. It would be very hard to test the impact on sentencing, if any, of what we are voting on here and, if it goes through to its third reading, what we are voting on as a Parliament. To quote from the regulatory impact statement issued by the Acting General Manager, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Malcolm Luey: “The proposed amendment will not require the court to take any specific action in terms of the type or severity of sentence imposed. The court will be required to take this factor into
account—along with other specified and unspecified aggravating factors—in arriving at the appropriate sentence to be imposed in a particular case. Because judges’ assessment of aggravating and mitigating factors are not amenable to empirical analysis and the proposed amendment does not entail specific action by the court, no monitoring or evaluation of the proposed amendment is possible.” So we are left a bit up in the air about the effect of this amendment.
If we look at the existing aggravating factors under the Sentencing Act 2002, we see that they are pretty common-sense ones that judges would take into account anyway, such as whether the offence involved actual or threatened violence, or involved actual or threatened use of a weapon. Obviously, judges would take those factors into account. Judges also take into account whether the offence involved unlawful entry to, or unlawful presence in, a dwelling house. A home invasion would, obviously, be taken into account. Whether the offender was on bail is a factor that judges take into account every day. Other factors include whether there was particular cruelty, or abuse of a position of trust, and whether the victim was particularly vulnerable because of age, or health—was disabled, etc. Clearly, judges take those factors into account. I suppose the next one is relevant to be put in that particular section of the Sentencing Act. It is whether the offender committed the offence partly or wholly because of hostility towards a group of persons who have the same characteristics of race, character, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or disability. I think it is good to single out that factor, because we do not want the cancer of prejudice extending and expanding in our society. So that is quite a good one.
Whether the offence involved a terrorist act is an obvious one to put in. Other factors include whether the person is part of an organised criminal group, whether there was premeditation, and the nature and extent of previous convictions. Those are obvious things to put in as aggravating factors. There is nothing particularly wrong, I suppose, with adding whether the offence was committed on a police or prison officer, but we are not adding a great deal to the law by doing that.
The other side of this measure is worth commenting on. The other side of adding this factor as an aggravating factor, and the other side of the other provisions in the Crimes Act and Summary Offences Act for an extra penalty for assaults on police officers in the pursuit of their duty, is that police officers have to take particular care not to misuse that provision of a harsher penalty. We sometimes hear of complaints from people who are up before the courts, and sometimes from the lawyers defending them, that the charge of assault on a constable has been unnecessarily brought. Often there is a grey area between obstruction of a police officer, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer. If there is to be a significant extra penalty for assault on a constable, a police officer who happens to be a bit prejudiced towards somebody has to be careful not to slap a charge of assault on the person rather than a lesser charge of obstructing or resisting arrest. That is the other side of the equation. If Parliament is to protect police officers and prison officers in this way, which we think is a good thing, an extra responsibility is placed on police officers and prison officers not to misuse that provision.
With those few words, I say that the Green Party will be interested in the discussion at the select committee. We will see what the experts—particularly the legal experts, law societies, and whatnots in this field—say about the additional provision in this massive bill of less than a page, really. Thanks.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country)
: It is always a pleasure to follow the Green member Keith Locke, who I understand is retiring at the end of this parliamentary term. He will be sorely missed from the House. I have never seen a member who can stand up and speak in favour of legislation and so convincingly spend
the whole time arguing against why it is such a good idea. It is a skill. It takes a while to develop the skill to be so convinced that something is a bad thing but support it.
The reason the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill has come about is simply that there has been an increasing number of crimes against officers in the course of their duties, whether he or she is a police officer or a corrections officer or whatever jurisdiction he or she may be in. There is a long list of assaults against officers and of police officers in Hamilton, Dunedin, and various other places suffering all sorts of quite substantial bodily harm from attacks. As a result, the National Party, as part of its manifesto and election campaign to the public, said that in Government it would take a close look at things related to law and order and do something about what has become a growing issue, as far as the public are concerned.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that the fact that an offence is committed against a police officer or prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty is taken into account as an aggravating factor at sentencing. The notion—and hopefully it will be successful—is that the offence will be taken into account before criminals decide to take the law into their hands and start attacking those who are there and who are charged, as the previous speaker said, with looking after the wider good of the public and the community in the course of their duty.
I have no doubt that if the judiciary picks up and takes on board what Parliament is suggesting it should, longer or stiffer sentences might come about as a result. The whole reason why the bill has come about is that there have been a growing number of offences against officers. There seems to be a bit of a cavalier approach in society generally towards those who are in authority, and I guess one could say a lack of respect for the rule of law. Hopefully, the bill will send the message.
I know from my own experience and from years of studying case study in Parliament and outside that one cannot solve violence with violence, but society has to set some standards and to put in place some bottom line so that for those who choose to challenge the standards and cross the line, there will be a sanction that befits the crime. I suspect that over time, because we are a liberal egalitarian society with a very open and free democracy, we become more and more concerned about the rights of those who have been the perpetrators of crime, as opposed to the victims of it.
A rebalance is necessary. That is not a political comment. If we look at what has started to develop on both sides of Parliament in terms of policy, particularly around law and order, we see that when Green Party members get up and support such a bill going to the select committee at least, then there is a political reality that the public in general are looking to Parliament to set some higher standards in regard to law and order. National wants to send a clear message that assault against law enforcement officers is unacceptable. Over the past 5 years there has been a significant increase in the number of rates of assault on law enforcement officers.
I look forward to the bill going through to the Law and Order Committee, which I am a member of. I will listen with great interest to submitters who raise concerns, such as the Law Society and others who may submit on the bill. As we go through the process I will take into account any of the concerns they may have. The bill is simple, as the previous speaker mentioned, so there is not a great deal of alteration that could take place, but there may be some areas and unintended consequences that we have not thought of at this stage that may come to light during the select committee process. I look forward to that process.
CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour)
: I stand to speak on the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. Labour supports the bill going to the Law and Order Committee. We agree, despite what a previous National speaker said earlier in the debate, that assaults on police officers and prison officers should be taken very
seriously. We have no problem with supporting the bill. However, we are concerned that it will not really make any difference, as the courts already can, and usually do, take consideration of assaults as an aggravating factor in sentencing. It is interesting that the Government is taking the issue of the safety of prison officers and police officers so seriously when with the legislation that has been passed and some of the changes the Minister of Corrections has made we have to question whether she has taken the issue seriously in the past.
I was a member of the Law and Order Committee about 6 months ago. A few things came to the select committee that really put at risk the safety of prison guards. I will mention just one thing to start with: double-bunking, which the Minister of Corrections thought she would introduce and which had evidence against it suggesting that it would jeopardise the safety of prison guards. We have seen the privatisation of prisons legislation go through, and we had submissions at that time that suggested that in the past when we had a private prison in New Zealand it was a safety risk to the prison officers who were in there at the time. The submissions stated that because of the performance bonus environment the prison guards were working in, unfortunately a lot of what should have been reported was not reported, and their safety was directly at risk.
Here we are tonight discussing the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, and members on the other side of the House are discussing the fact that it is all about the safety of prison guards. Very clear legislation has gone through the House that puts their safety at risk.
As I said, we support the safety of our police officers. We, along with every other member of Parliament in this House, are appalled at the statistics in respect of the increase in assaults that have occurred for police officers over the last 5 years and that have occurred for prison officers over the last 5 years. The reality is that although we support this bill because it does no harm, it actually will not do any good either. The unfortunate reality is that in 2 years’ time, when we look back at the statistics from now to 2 years moving forward, we will see that there is no change in the number of assault cases occurring, and, unfortunately, we will probably see a continued steady incline of the actual assault cases that take place.
When we talk about police officers and prison guards as victims of assault, we take that very seriously; we take it very seriously when we are talking about victims of any crime. We are disappointed on this side of the House that the National Government seems to pick and choose when victims’ rights and when victims’ safety are of importance. We have seen in recent weeks a real undermining of the safety of everyday New Zealanders, with the cuts to family violence prevention programmes. That will not do any good for those women who are in situations where they are victims of domestic violence. We will see resourcing and funding taken away so they will no longer have the support they need if they find themselves in that situation. That is a clear indication that the National Government is not looking after victims.
Another case where it is not looking after victims is in regard to the Domestic Violence Reform Bill, which is languishing at the bottom of the Order Paper, which was consulted on with the sector widely, and which had much time and resources invested in it, yet that side of the House does not take it seriously enough to move it up the Order Paper quickly. I think in that first 100 days of office the things that the Government prioritised at that time were, from memory, not even very important.
Carol Beaumont: Workers’ rights.
CARMEL SEPULONI: Attacking workers’ rights. What else did it do in that first 100 days?
Carol Beaumont: Tax cuts.
CARMEL SEPULONI: Tax cuts for the rich. I think in that first 100 days it gave $30 million to private schools, and it did a whole lot of things that were not priorities. That is another example of the National Government not prioritising victims. It did not prioritise the Domestic Violence Reform Bill. Instead we saw attacks on workers’ rights.
The Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill purports to be an indication of the Government’s support for the safety of police officers and prison guards. Yet, as I said, every other victim has been hung out to dry by the National Government. The reality is—and I say this sadly, because we wish that it would help—that the bill will not make a difference, at all. We do not have any objection to this bill, as I said. Our real concern is that it will not make a difference. The Sentencing Act already provides that the court may take into account any aggravating or mitigating factor that it thinks fits, in addition to the specific factors listed in section 9 of the Act. That is something that is already happening. In terms of aggravating factors, and in terms of looking at that when sentencing takes place, we do not need this bill to make that happen. It is something that is already happening in our courts.
The proposed amendment will not require the court to take any specific action in terms of the type or severity of sentence imposed. The court will simply be required to take this factor into account along with other specified and unspecified aggravating factors, and to arrive at the appropriate sentence to be imposed in a particular case. In most circumstances the process, considerations, and conclusion that the courts come to will not be in the slightest bit affected by this proposed amendment, because the fact that an offence has been committed against a police or prison officer is something that the courts would usually, already—as I said before—take into consideration.
The Ministry of Justice pointed out in the regulatory impact statement to this bill that courts have traditionally regarded assaults on law enforcement officers as serious. The High Court has described an attack on a police officer as equivalent to an attack on the community, because our police officers are the representatives of the community on the matter of law and order in society. They are society’s front line. The Court of Appeal has emphasised the gravity of using serious violence against police officers and has upheld deterrent sentences in a number of cases.
This bill certainly will not have any effect on the likelihood that an offender will assault a police officer or prison officer. Offenders do not stop to consider mitigating and aggravating factors that may be taken into consideration by the court when committing an offence. It is another example of the National Government doing things like this in a punitive manner, where it does not make a difference. We saw it with the “three strikes” bill, and we know from the submissions that came before the Law and Order Committee that having “three strikes” legislation will not make an offender stop and think before committing a crime. Basically, it is not effective at all. This bill is another meaningless piece of law and order legislation from a Government that does not seem to have any ideas for reducing crime, other than increasing sentences.
In terms of what is going on at the moment out there, such as people struggling because the cost of living is going up, the Government proposing State asset sales, despite the fact that 60 percent of New Zealanders say they do not want it and only 10 percent say they do, the fact that increasingly children are showing up at our schools without having had breakfast and without lunch in their bags, it makes members on this side of the House wonder why legislation like this, which we know will not be effective, should be a priority of the National Government. It is window dressing. It is about the National Government trying to look like it is being hard on crime, trying to look like it is dong something in respect of law and order, but at the end of the day we on this side
of the House know—and time will tell—that none of these measures that the Government is putting into place will be effective in any way. Thank you.
MELISSA LEE (National)
: I am rather disappointed in the previous speaker, Carmel Sepuloni. First of all, she said that the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill will do nothing to reduce crime levels. I guess she tried to say that the courts were already dealing with aggravating assaults when she said there were already mitigating factors, but there is a huge difference between something that may be considered in sentencing and something that is required to be considered.
It is similar to the difference between attempted murder and murder. There is a huge difference between attempted murder and murder, and there is a huge difference between something that may be considered and something that is required to be considered as a mitigating factor. There is a huge difference.
Labour members, who claim that National has done nothing, had 9 years to deal with this issue. Now they are saying that the Government is not doing anything for victims. Hello? The police officers are not victims? We are looking after the victims.
Every time our police officers don their blue uniforms they put their lives on the line. Whether they are answering a 111 call, investigating a disturbance, or patrolling a beat, police officers on the front line are working for us. They are working to keep us safe, but every time they do their duty to protect us their lives are on the line. Prison officers, too, come up against violence in the course of performing their duties. It is part of their job. That is what we expect them to do. They accept that their job comes with a certain amount of risk and danger.
But what happens when a police officer or a prison officer is attacked? We have all seen in the newspapers and on TV the horrific injuries suffered by police officers in their line of duty. Over the last 5 years, as other members have said, there has been a huge increase in both the rate and the number of assaults on police officers and prison officers. That is why the Minister of Justice is putting forward this bill, and I commend him for doing so. Unlike Opposition members, who claim that this bill does nothing, I believe that it will make a difference.
I do not know how many of us would want to do what front-line police officers and prison officers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I certainly would not want to do what they do. They put their lives in danger, and their families are constantly worried about their safety every time they go out there to do their jobs in order to keep us safe.
The purpose of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill is to ensure that the fact that an offence was committed against a police officer or prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty is taken into account as a mitigating factor at sentencing. As mentioned by the previous speaker, Carmel Sepuloni, that recourse is currently available, but only as a “may be”—it may be considered as an aggravating factor. As I said, there is a huge difference between a “may be”, a “should be”, and a “must be” in respect of what the court is required to take into account.
National wants to send a clear message that assaults against law enforcement officers are unacceptable. We back our men and women in blue. We support our police force. That is the reason why I support the bill, and I commend this bill to the House. I look forward to its passage through to the Law and Order Committee.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato)
: I am pleased to stand and offer some comments on the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. I will simply restate that if one was to listen very carefully to this debate, one will hear that Labour backs the police. We are certainly sure that it is important to care for and protect our policemen, our policewomen, and our corrections officers. All that we are saying, in supporting the bill to go to the Law and Order Committee, is that we do not think it will make a big difference, because judges at the moment can take into account
aggravating factors around existing crimes. In fact, if one looks at the situation when they do take aggravating factors into account, one will see some variance within the judiciary in terms of when they make their sentencing options known after some consideration.
Having listened to the member before me speak, I can say that volume is no substitute for clear thought. Melissa Lee certainly demonstrated that. We want to ensure that the House is very clear on Labour’s position, because anyone who listened to what Government members were saying would have heard them try to insinuate that Labour has no care or regard whatsoever for the good people who serve our communities day in, day out in our provinces and in our cities, in order to protect everyday Kiwi citizens. We absolutely believe that their protection should be at the forefront of the difficult duty that they do.
I will raise the issue of security guards, which my colleague Carmel Sepuloni brought to the attention of the House. It relates to what is happening in our prisons. Corrections officers themselves will say that double-bunking in prisons alone actually creates an environment in which it is less safe for them to carry out their tasks. Let us be very clear: the Government introduced double-bunking, recognising from the sector—from corrections officers—that it was creating a more unsafe environment. This bill will do nothing to enhance the safety of corrections officers who work under those circumstances. We raise those types of issues as they present very real opportunities for the Government to take action and ensure that corrections officers are better protected in the workplace.
If one were to take a somewhat cynical view of this bill, one would say yes, it prepares the way for National members on the Government side of the House to have a slogan that they can take out to the community. But it does very little in terms of delivering to where it is needed most: to those front-line officers, to ensure that they are protected in their workplace. One of the members on the Government side talked about the provinces and the fact that police officers go out into rural communities by themselves every day. But those same members say nothing about ensuring that there is double-staffing in rural police stations. They are not raising that issue as a potential opportunity to address safety issues in rural communities, although it could be a real, practical step towards safety for officers who serve in those rural communities.
I am concerned that the Government is misrepresenting the view of Labour. We support the police. We back them and we back corrections officers. We back the provision of a safe environment for them, but we do not believe that this legislation will do anything to make a difference.